The COVID Diaries (Weeks 3 & 4)

Here in rural Lancashire we are still a couple of weeks (decades?) behind London & Birmingham so we’ve not seen the direct impact of COVID-19 as yet, but the indirect impact on day-to-day life is now with us just the same as the rest of the UK.  Without doubt it is strange, but after two weeks under house arrest the ‘new normal’ is getting to be fairly well bedded in.

How to light a campfire

How to light a campfire, a great way to also teach the fire triangle and an introduction to combustion chemistry.

Home Schooling turns out to be a much better experience than I expected. With Junior being six I guess I have it easy.  He doesn’t have exams ahead of him and is missing his friends more than it matters that he missing his formal education.  I am finding that a project based approach, akin to the  Montessori  approach is working well for both of us.  Each week we have a project, or two, which acts as the framework for discovery and learning the skills needed to carry it out (maths, science, dexterity) and record it (maths, English).

We have been blessed with great weather thus far meaning that bike rides (twin solo, or with the tag-along) have been possible and have been a little longer than most folks 20 minute walks.  However around here it’s easy to self isolate on the back roads.

I am delighted that I was able to restock my (mini) alpine garden before house arrest too, and am starting to see the results of old and new.

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Church life has changed again.  My ‘live streamed’ drumming to an empty church  was not only the first but probably the last time this will happen.  Since then church buildings have themselves been closed and now our church, amongst many others, is streaming sections of each service from different members homes.  All credit to the people organising this at St James who are doing a grand job.  Canned music didn’t work as well as it might last week, the difference between performance (what you can get from YouTube et al) and leading a congregation, albeit virtually, is actually very significant.  For Easter we had a multitrack of keys, guitar and vocal, complete with video, from two different homes.  Much better. Next week there should be drums as well.  This afternoon I laid down four drumming tracks for someone to mix into next weeks multitrack song recordings.  I’m feeling the benefit of having an electronic kit.  Whilst it’s perfectly technically feasible to mike-up every drum and cymbal, it’s neither easy nor cheap to achieve this.  I can mix my drums within the Roland ‘brain’ and output the drumming track straight to a .wav file on a memory stick.  In theory this is a perfect recording. I can even choose my ambience!

Home Multitrack Recording setup

I’ve found some voluntary work on the day I’m not home schooling and it’s good both to be busy and to be ‘doing my bit’ for the community.  Finally, the wheat malt I ordered has arrived and I have been able to set up my home office and do some informal development work.  I cannot sell the results as I am on furlough, and then there is also the small issue of being unlicensed.  However, it’ll keep my tasting panel happy and keep my brain and taste buds ticking over.

Isolation Pale Ale

Brewing an IPA – Isolation Pale Ale!

Cheers!

First set with my Cajon

If you follow this blog regularly you could be forgiven for thinking that my one and only passion is cycling, and the uber-niche of recumbent cycle touring at that. My recumbent high racer is fairly new and thus something for which a beginners enthusiasm might be expected to abound. But I’m not just a cyclist – I’m also a Christian and a drummer. These two loves come together when I provide percussion to one of the bands which plays at our church.

I first took up playing drums around 15 years ago, in an attempt to be ‘part of the solution’ to a church stuck in the 1850’s in my home town of the time in Hertfordshire. I’m unsure where I picked up the following principle, but it is one that shapes me, that being ‘You only have the right to complain if you are prepared to help do something about the problem.’ Life moves on and as resident or guest drummer I’ve played with at least six different worship bands since then.

What have I learnt over this time you might ask? (i) That it is better to play with a nice group of people, than a great group of musicians (and if you can combine the two then that’s really good). (ii) It takes 45 minutes to set up and ca. 30 min to break down and pack a rock kit. (iii) One accessory that any drummer needs is either an estate car or a van!   But as of today, whilst (i) remains true, it may be that (ii) & (iii) are not necessarily true any more.

And so when get to the subject of this post – my first set with my Cajon. Firstly here is a picture.

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If you are not familiar with the Cajon as an instrument read this. If you want to know more about the instrument in the picture then look here as well. Whilst you may think as I used to – what can be so great about a plywood box? – let me enlighten you. My DG Bravo is a bass, snare, toms and rim shot all in one, 4 kg box. The tonal variety of a Cajon is simply amazing. Traditionally they would not have been strung as mine is, but this gives me a sharp ‘rock kit’ snare sound and well as an authoritative bass. It really is so much fun to play. I play traditional ‘rock kit’ 4/4 and 8/4 patterns on it, and it really lends itself to this. Interestingly it is also excellent for double bass pedal beats too. My current band is rather different to those I’ve played with before – as well as guitar, keys and harmonizing singers, we also have a violin and recorder. This give a rounded sound with the option of the solo voices of the violin and recorder to add zest to a song. Also, they are a great crowd and forgiving of a self taught drummer who cannot read music.

So how was my first outing with the Cajon? From the number of positive comments from the band and from the congregation I’d say it was a pronounced success. I too loved the whole experience. It is amazing to think that my small plywood box could fill a 300 seater church, but this it did. One thing that led me to the DG Bravo was the fact that the tone was as good when played lightly as when played hard and loud. This is key in a church worship music setting where the tone of our music needs to be anything from reflective to driven, punchy and powerful.

Turn up, unbag the Cajon, sit down it and just play – how refreshing is that, swapping a 45 minute set up time to 10 seconds and swapping a car full to a simple shoulder bag. The Cajon, short on hassle, big on sound – it really rocks!

UK Eurovision Strategy – now I get it!

After reading about Spain’s Eurovision contender – BBC News – the reason we have chosen Humperdinck becomes clear. It’s a race for the bottom – no one can afford to win, so we need to do our best not to.  It will be just our luck that the UK will find itself as poor at losing (when we are trying to) as at winning.

So what can we do – all vote for the nation we want most to be kicked out of the Euro?!?